by Jim Murray
There was seldom a dull moment at the Strength & Health
magazine office in York, Pennsylvania, during the early 1950s. York,
at the time, was clearly the world center for weightlifting and allied
activities. The United States had the world championship weighthlifting
team and the champions gathered at the York Barbell Club’s battered
old gym on North Broad Street to prepare for national and international
competition. And bodybuilders from all over the U.S. and
the world would spend time at York to get training tips from the dominant
bodybuilder of the era, John Carroll Grimek (JCG).
John and I shared an office and, in lulls between preparing
issues of S&H, JCG would regale me with accounts of his long
experience in the Iron Game. He had been national heavyweight lifting
champion and a member of the 1936 Olympic weightlifting
team, and had placed third in the national championships as a heavyweight
in 1940 while weighing only 183 pounds. That was the year
he won his first Mr. America contest.
JCG had tried to make weight to compete in the 181-pound class, but had too much muscle to lose and decided to compete as a heavyweight against Steve Stanko and Louis Abele, each of whom weighed about 225 (Anything over 181 was in the unlimited heavyweight class in those days). Despite the
debilitating effect of taking off about 20 pounds, John still pressed 285 pounds, which was 102 pounds over his bodyweight.
Here’s a tidbit that will surprise a lot of Iron Game fans: after a start in weight training during which he practiced all the standard barbell and dumbell exercises of the time, John Grimek concentrated on competitive weightlifting, and from 1932 until after he won the 1940 Mr. America contest he did no bodybuilding! He practiced snatches, cleans and jerks, squats for leg strength, and a lot of cleans and presses for general strength and to focus on shoulders and arms.
He did repetitions of complete cleans and presses, lowering the weight and cleaning it before each press. With a clean before each press, JCG worked up to as much as 275 pounds for rep retitions. With that kind of training, he developed the outstanding physique that won the 1940 Mr. America contest
Barbell men of the 1930s and ’40s had minimal special equipment. Mostly they just lifted barbells and dumbells in very basic exercises. There were no benches with uprights to support barbells preparatory to bench pressing, so there was little if any bench pressing done. There were squat stands, and Grimek did a lot of squats—with no knee wraps, special suits or other aids, and using a comfortable foot spacing about shoulder width.
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